6 Ideas from Benefit Corporations To Ramp Up Product Innovation and Creativity

Photo by    Samuel Zeller

Photo by Samuel Zeller

What is the secret sauce to product innovation?  Businesses large and small understand that to stay relevant in today’s world, it’s important to stay fresh and even be transformative in their industry.

A survey by IBM of more than 1,500 chief executive officers shows consensus: Creativity was ranked as the number one factor for future business success—above management discipline, integrity, and even vision.

Too often, however, companies get stuck in the status quo and become stagnant with leadership that fails to listen and honor the emerging needs of customers. It becomes a philosophy of “our needs and our profit” rather than a philosophy oriented toward employees, clients and community.

This is where Benefit Companies and Corporations offer a breath of fresh air. With their commitment to the “common good,” it is in their DNA to focus externally on how to improve communities with innovative products and services.

I recently met a brilliant young woman, Crystal, a “Renaissance” person, inventor, artist, writer and dedicated to serving others. She is in high demand for her genius creativity, innovative design, her ability to problem-solve and invent solutions for businesses. She is a champion of product innovation. Yet, she is committed to the concepts of the Benefit Corporation and remains true to the concept of “OpenSource” sharing of knowledge. It is about the “betterment of the world,” in her words, in collaborating with others through sharing and learning together to create “a better mousetrap.” 

This is the spirit of product innovation to serve others in collaboration with customers, while running a successful business.

Conscientious Leaders, the ones we certify as Business Corporations for Good, assume that customers are just as sophisticated and they can be the product leaders of their communities. Although they may suggest something that is difficult to deliver or something that challenges the current business model, Benefit Corporations understand that this is the key to innovation. In other words, break a few rules and challenge the status quo as well as to be creative and innovate with customers as partners.

Here are six ideas to help you listen and incorporate customer input into product innovation.

  1. Don’t just put a band-aid on the product or service issue that is causing pain. Instead, go upstream and eliminate the cause of the pain completely rather than just addressing the symptoms.

  2. Create a product advisory work group, made up of customers, that you consult regularly during your product creation cycle. This isn’t a focus group; it’s a roll up your sleeves and let’s generate products together.

  3. Start the product development cycle with the phrase: what rules can we break to make things simpler? By the way, every customer wants things simpler!

  4. Create a vision of what products or services  your customers will experience a year from now, two years, five years and then work backwards to make this a reality.

  5. Work with creative people...more right brain folks. Yes, analytics are important, but thinking totally out of the box even with big ideas that may at first sound ludicrous may have the germ of a practical solution.

  6. Bring equality into the formula. It’s time to be humble – you don’t really know more than the customer, which is a fundamental principle of Benefit Corporations.

Together with customers and with your community you can deliver innovation. Give them the pencil and let them draw the future. After all, Benefit Companies and Corporations do that every day.



MaryAnne Harmer